#Coronavirus: Florida pastor arrested for holding church services, tells members to shake hands
A Tampa, Fla., megachurch pastor who continued to hold packed church services despite a “Safer At Home” order was arrested Monday.
Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and violation of public health rules after defying social distancing orders at The River at Tampa Bay church in Florida, according to The Daily Beast.
“His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk, and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week, in danger,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a press conference.
Howard-Brown turned himself in to a neighboring sheriff’s office and was booked and released within 40 minutes.
Authorities said the pastor’s busy services violated the county order against gatherings of more than ten people to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
At services on March 15, Howard-Browne reportedly vowed his church will never close and encouraged those in attendance to shake hands to show they were not afraid of contracting the coronavirus.
The pastor has been an outspoken opponent of the social distancing requirements taking place throughout the country, and media reports says: he claimed his church has machines that can stop the coronavirus, vowing to personally cure the state of Florida.
The church has claimed on its website that the restrictions are a violation of the First Amendment, and in a March 18 post on Facebook, the church said it was providing an “essential service” that made it exempt from the social distancing orders.
Authorities say the sheriff’s office spoke to attorneys for the church to explain they were in violation of government orders, and officers attempted to meet in person with the pastor but he refused.